Elli Sparks does not look like the kind of person who strikes fear in the hearts of fossil fuel lobbyists. But woe be to they who underestimate this diminutive mother of two from Richmond, Virginia.
Given a hundred Ellies, I have no doubt that the movement to stop climate change would regain its momentum. Given a thousand, I have no doubt that we could save humanity from our own stupidity and ensure a livable planet for generations to come.
Environmentalists often say we must stop climate change for the sake of our children and grandchildren. Who better, then, to lead the charge on Washington than mothers? As we approach the day when we honor those who gave life to all of us, I see that it will take a mom -- lots of them -- to save Mother Earth.
While the paid lobbyists in Washington who work for the interests of oil and coal are well compensated for their efforts, Elli has the stronger motivation. Their names are Sophie and Peter, her 13-year-old daughter and 10-year-old son, who has undergone five open-heart surgeries. Like any good mother, her life is devoted to loving and nurturing her kids. She home schools both of them, and she raises an urban farm of sorts in her back yard -- complete with chickens -- to provide fresh, nutrition-rich food for their growing bodies.
You can check out her garden in the video below, where she treated us to a wonderful homemade breakfast -- freshest eggs I've ever had -- prior to our meeting with the editorial board of the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
Elli has always felt close to nature, but the full impact of the climate crisis didn't hit her until she read Bill McKibben's Eaarth last year.
"I wept the entire time I was reading it. I felt so helpless, and I still have waves of that. I was stunned to see how far things had deteriorated."
Knowledge about the consequences of climate change began to weigh on her mind as she considered her children's future.
"The kids talk about what they want to do when they grow up... The uncertainty is terrifying."
Compelled to do whatever she could, Elli organized one of 350.org's Day of Action events last fall, and in the process found out about Citizens Climate Lobby, an organization that trains and supports volunteers to lobby effectively for legislation to stop climate change. Their approach to advocacy appealed to her.
"I like how we come from a place of love. I don't think we're going to get very far yelling at people in anger."
Since then, she has held monthly meetings, organized letter-writing parties, published letters in the local newspaper, called congressional offices and met with editorial writers. She's working to get a face-to-face meeting with Richmond Congressman Eric Cantor -- she knows someone who knows his mother -- and is hoping to see the House Majority Leader when she goes to Washington in June for CCL's conference.
When Elli talks about coming from a "place of love," though, she isn't kidding. Her approach -- to melt hearts rather than beat heads -- was evident in a speech she gave while accepting a "Green Heroes" award in Richmond. Seated in the audience were executives from Dominion Virginia Power, a sponsor of the event and a utility that generates more than 40 percent of its electricity from fossil fuels. She spoke to them directly, in a manner that inspired rather than admonished, about the role they can play in a future free from the tyranny of carbon-based fuels. My words cannot do justice to her speech. Watch it here:
Like I said, give me a hundred moms like Elli, and we'll turn this thing around in no time.
Follow Steve Valk on Twitter: www.twitter.com/citizensclimate